By DOUG HENNES
COLLEGEVILLE – A year ago this weekend, No. 12 St. Thomas Football faced No. 8 St. John's here perhaps as a slight underdog, but used the bruising running game of junior halfback Jordan Roberts behind a dominant offensive line to break a halftime tie and win 35-14.
On Saturday, the No. 4 Tommies (4-0) arrived here perhaps as a slight favorite over No. 6 St. John's, and with Roberts sidelined by an injury they turned to different heroes – a freshman halfback and an opportunistic defense that forced five turnovers – for a 33-21 win.
The win didn't come easily. The Johnnies (3-1) rallied from a 27-7 second half deficit to cut the St. Thomas lead to six points with five minutes to go before halfback Josh Parks broke loose for a 46-yard touchdown run.
It was the third straight win for St. Thomas over St. John's and came before 16,514 fans in Clemens Stadium, the second-largest crowd in Division III football history behind 17,327 at the St. Thomas-St. John's game last year. The road team has won the last five regular-season games between the two teams.
Coach Glenn Caruso was effusive in his post-game praise for his defense. He cited linebacker Adam Brant (14 tackles, including two for losses and two forced fumbles), cornerback Michael Alada (two interceptions and six tackles) and lineman Anthony King-Foreman (touchdown run off a fumble recovery).
"Anthony's scoop and run came at a critical moment," Caruso said of the second-quarter play, when King-Foreman picked up a fumble by St. John's quarterback Jackson Erdmann after a Steve Harrell sack and ran 57 yards for a 13-7 lead. "Honestly, I didn't have a good vibe at that point in the game."
Defense plays key role in first half
The play by Harrell and King-Foreman highlighted a defensive effort that forced three St. John's fumbles in the first half and led to 14 of St. Thomas' 20 points before the break.
Ryan Winter recovered a St. John's fumble on its second play from scrimmage on the opening drive, and five plays later quarterback Alex Fenske scored on a five-yard keeper. The extra point gave the Tommies a quick 7-0 lead.
On its next series, St. Thomas drove to the St John's 20 behind 54 rushing yards from halfback Tucker Trettel, but the Johnnies blocked a 37-yard field goal attempt by Carter Schmitz. Four plays later, Erdmann found a receiver on a short pass route and a St. Thomas defender jarred the ball loose, but it was snared in midair by receiver Evan Clark. He raced 68 yards down the sideline for a touchdown to tie the game at 7-7.
Three plays into the second quarter, Harrell forced the Erdmann fumble – the first time he had been sacked this season – and King-Foreman ran for the lead. The Johnnies blocked Schmitz's kick.
"We practice that play every day: scoop, run and score," King-Foreman said. "I'm thankful I was in the right spot at the right time. The ball was close – a couple of feet away – and I fielded it like a ground ball and ran. I was a little out of breath at the end."
Chuck Foreman, the father of King-Foreman and a star running back for the Minnesota Vikings in
the 1970s, stood near his son during post-game interviews and smiled when asked about the play. "I'm so proud of Anthony as a football player and a young man," Foreman said. "He's special."
St. Thomas stopped St. John's on the next series, thanks to a fourth-down sack, and took over at the Johnnies' 38. The Tommies drove to the St. John's 11 and kicked a field goal, but St. John's roughed kicker Bryan Steinsapir and St. Thomas had new life with a first down. Two plays later, halfback Trucker Trettel scored from the 5. Steinsapir made the extra point kick for a 20-7 lead.
St. John's drove to the St. Thomas 27 with a minute left in the first half, but another Johnnie fumble – this one recovered by Matt Mitchell – ended the threat.
Pace slows in second half
Erdmann's first interception of the year led to seven more St. Thomas points early in the third quarter. Cornerback Michael Alada picked off his third pass, and 10 plays later Parks ran it in from the 2 for a 27-7 lead with 8:12 left in the third quarter.
St. John's bounced back with an eight-play, 61-yard drive to trail 27-14. Erdmann completed three passes of 14 or more yards, including a 20-yarder for a touchdown on 3rd and 11.
Fenske threw his first interception on the next series, but St. John's had back-to-back three-and-out possessions, the second one ending with a punt blocked by Jordan Lundell. The Tommies again couldn't move the ball, and Steinsapir missed a 42-yard field goal.
St. John's drove 76 yards on the ensuing drive, capping it with a 30-yard Erdmann touchdown pass with 5:08 remaining. The first seven plays of the drive were runs, but on the eighth play Erdmann threw the scoring pass, and suddenly it was 27-21.
The Tommies picked up one first down on a third-and-9 pass from Fenske to Luke Iverson near midfield. Parks ran for two yards and then busted a 46-yard touchdown run off right tackle to cap the victory with two minutes to go.
"We had been running the play all game," said Parks, who transferred from the University of Minnesota after looking at St. John's. "I knew we had a chance to break it. We just kept pounding the ball. I was fortunate. Once I broke a tackle at the line, I knew I just had to beat the safety."
The touchdown run gave Parks 109 rushing yards on the day, his second straight 100-yard game off the bench. He ran for 143 yards a week ago against Carleton, with touchdown runs of 70 and 57 yards.
During a post-game interview on WCCO Radio, which broadcast the game, announcer Dave Lee remarked that the sun came out right at the end of the game to break up the day-long overcast skies.
"The sun does shine on St. Thomas today," Caruso responded.
• St. John's outgained St. Thomas 328 to 308 yards, holding a 245 to 114-yard edge in the air. The Tommies won the ground game, 194 to 83 yards. Aside from two runs of 37 and 17 yards, St. John's had only 29 yards in 31 rushes.
• Erdman came into the game ranked second nationally with a quarterback efficiency rating of 236.2, 12 touchdown passes, no interceptions and no sacks. The Tommies picked him off twice, sacked him four times and forced a fumble off a sack.
• Fenske, No. 6 nationally in quarterback ratings, had a quiet day with nine completions in 18 attempts and one interception. His 114 passing yards put him over 3,000 for his career, giving him 3,101.
• St. Thomas returns home on Oct. 1 for a Homecoming game against Augsburg. The Auggies (1-3) won their first game Saturday with a 49-17 win over Carleton.